Elizabeth Chandler – Film – Letters from Bagdad

Don’t miss the screening at the Darien Library on June 11 at 7:00pm. 

She was a banker for over 20 years, but it was a passion project that captured her attention and lead her to a new venture. After working on Wall Street, Elizabeth Chandler set up a micro advisory company that works with start-ups. But it was a biography that changed how Elizabeth has spent the last few years.

“My parents suggested that I read a biography of Gertrude Bell and I became obsessed with her.” In Dessert Queen by Janet Wallach, Elizabeth discovered the compelling story of a women who lived at the turn of the century. Bell was the first woman to graduate from Oxford and when her parents sent her to Tehran to visit relatives, she fell in love with the Middle East. She taught herself Arabic and Farsi and worked as an archaeologist throughout the area.

Fate stepped in for Bell when the British military intelligence during World War I needed experts on the region and they reached out to her. She is now often referred to as the female Lawrence of Arabia. Bell became one of the most powerful people in the British empire in the 20th century, yet her story is often overlooked.

But how did a biography change the course of Elizabeth’s work. “I was so drawn to this story and felt it would make a great film along the lines of Lawrence of Arabia. So I wrote a screenplay about Gertrude Bell and set out to get the film made.” But that proved difficult.

Then fate stepped in for Elizabeth, “A filmmaker who read my screenplay, connected me to two incredibly talented women, Sabine Krayenbuhl and Zeva Oelbaum, who were working on a documentary of Gertrude Bell’s life. I jumped at the chance to join their team and offered to assist in producing the film.” Zeva and Sabine and others involved in the process had impressive resumes in developing and producing documentaries.

“I became an intern of sorts. While I had extensive knowledge of Gertrude Bell after spending five years researching and writing about her, I had no experience in producing a film so it was a learning curve. It was exciting to learn on a project about a subject that I was so passionate about.” Elizabeth spent countless hours doing research, not only in the US at The Library of Congress, but also in archives across the UK, collecting primary source material on this incredible woman who had literally changed the course of history.

The team received a grant from the National Endowment of Humanities to help fund the project. Elizabeth used her finance background to access the funds to complete the film including managing a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Together, the team worked to craft the story of Gertrude Bell using archival footage, and interviews with actors playing the people in her life. The story is narrated by Tilda Swinton, using Bell’s words found in over 1600 letters she wrote during her time as a British spy, explorer, and political power house.

In 2016 and 2017, Letters from Bagdad premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and in the US at DOC NYC. It was broadcast by the BBC and in December of this year, the film will be shown in the US on PBS.

“Bell’s story has such relevance today.” Elizabeth has two daughters who are 16, and 19 and she says the story resonates with them as they study 20th century world history and the Middle East in school and watch what is playing out in real time. And, “It’s fun to show my girls how you can apply your knowledge in one field to a completely different field.”

Now for her next production project, “Having gone through this process once, I’d love to work on another story, but it would have to be something that truly resonates with me. Gertrude Bell is a hard act to follow.” Another historical documentary about a woman perhaps?

VentureMom Tip
Be open to new connections through friends and colleagues.

Don’t miss the screening at the Darien Library on June 11 at 7:00pm. 

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